Burgenland is Austria’s easternmost wine region, situated south of Niederösterreich and north of Steiermark, and bordering Hungary along its entire eastern flank. Its 28% share of Austria’s vineyard area produces the country’s best and most respected red wines, from vineyards whose proximity to Hungary’s warm Pannonian plains ensures proper ripening for the indigenous Blaufränkisch and Zweigelt. The northern sector of Burgenland is dominated by Lake Neusiedl (or Neusiedlersee), Europe’s largest steppe lake, which straddles the Austria-Hungary border, and the Nittnaus family has resided in the town of Gols, on Neusiedlersee’s eastern edge, since 1684.
Today, third-generation Hans Nittnaus and his wife Anita helm the winery his grandfather Johann began in 1927. After taking over from his father in 1985, in the aftermath of the well-publicized diethylene glycol scandal which (despite being perpetrated by only a few large wineries) so damaged Austrian wine’s reputation abroad, Hans was resolutely determined to claw out some respect for the wines of his homeland. As so many across lesser-known winegrowing regions did in the 1980s, Hans chose Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot as his draft horses to ride toward international acclaim; however, within a few years he shifted focus to Blaufränkisch and Zweigelt—varieties whose deep sense of somewhere-ness more readily distinguish them from the pack.
Hans & Anita are regarded today not only as influential pioneers of contemporary Burgenland’s dynamic wine scene, but as among the greatest growers in all of Austria. Happily, their two sons Andreas and Martin, as well as their niece Lydia, are fully involved in the day-to-day operations of the winery, and the two generations approach their work in a collaborative spirit. Despite the chaos that occasionally ensues from such a collective approach, it is clear that all parties deeply respect one another’s approach, and it is greatly reassuring to know that the winery will be in such capable, dynamic hands in its next phase.
The family’s white wines are breezy and balanced without being simple, and their red wines are simultaneously refreshing and serious—eminently digestible without making a huge deal of their ease of use, and sneakily solid in their construction despite their spicy exuberance and lip-smacking fruit. This remarkable tightrope-walk, which the Nittnauses make look easy, avoids flirtation with over-extracted internationalism on one side and affectations of cutesy gluggability on the other. Theirs are the wines of seasoned masters who have learned over years of experience how to produce wines that taste precisely and proudly of where they are from.